Heidi Bonfigli, MA, has been an Adoption Connection caseworker for more than 13 years and is also an an adoptive parent herself. Get to know Heidi as she discusses her experiences working with birth and adoptive families in the agency’s North Bay California counties.
What first attracted you to adoption work?
Heidi Bonfigli: Adoption was not a foreign concept to me growing up because I have three step-siblings who joined our family through adoption. After my parents divorced when I was 2 years old, my dad remarried. He and his second wife could not have biological children, and they adopted my three siblings through open adoption from three different birthmothers. All three situations were completely different. My oldest sister has some openness with her birth family, my middle sister has the most open of any adoption I have ever witnessed, and the youngest, my brother, has a completely closed adoption.
Growing up, I witnessed all three of these adoptions unfold, and I always thought adoption was an incredible way to build a family. After my husband and I adopted my son, I realized I could use my education and experience in social work and human development to help other families through the adoption process. I first worked for an adoption agency in Nevada, and when my family and I moved back to Northern California in 2001, I began working for Adoption Connection, where I’m an adoption home study caseworker. I also work directly in counseling and supporting pregnant women considering adoption for their babies.
Would you tell me a little about your adoption experience?
My husband and I experienced infertility and pregnancy losses. After deciding we wanted to be parents more than becoming pregnant, we signed up with an adoption agency. Our son’s birthmother was only 15 years old and did not want an open adoption. This was difficult, because we were so prepared and interested in an open experience, but we respected her decision. Our son was born in July 1996.
Do you feel that going through an adoption process has helped in working with adoptive parents?
I do think going through infertility, pregnancy loss, and the adoption process has made me a more sensitive adoption caseworker. It is difficult to explain the impact of these three challenges to someone who has not directly experienced them. I truly understand the desperation of wanting to be a family and feeling completely helpless to make it happen.
I remember what it felt like to go through the adoption home study and create the Parent Profile. I clearly recall the anxious waiting for our son’s birthmother to give birth and, afterwards, signing the relinquishment forms to make the adoption legally binding. I remember the joy and gratitude I felt holding my baby boy for the first time.
What are some of your favorite parts of your work with birth and adoptive parents?
Heidi Bonfigli: I would say it is witnessing the profound courage and selflessness that I see in birth parents. It is an honor and a humbling experience. I also love working with adoptive parents and educating them about adoption. At our first meeting, I let them know that I am there to help them feel as prepared as possible and I want them to feel comfortable with me. I am not there to find a reason why they “can’t” adopt!—I think this is often the perception that many have of adoption caseworkers.
My favorite part of my entire job is holding babies! It is a long-running joke in my family that when we ask each other about our day at the dinner table, my family will say, “Let me guess, Mom, today you held the cutest baby in the world.” My answer is always yes! Babies are just so precious. To be able to work with a family who so desperately wanted to become parents during the homestudy process and then to visit the family with their newborn baby during the post-placement process are amazing. My other favorite thing is receiving updates from the families I’ve worked with over the years. Some of the adoptive families now have children who are 13 years old!
I hear you are back in school. What’s it like to be in class again and what are you studying?
I am currently a full-time graduate student at Sonoma State University getting another graduate degree so I can be certified to become a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT). I would like to offer private therapy to infertile couples, couples dealing with pregnancy loss, birth parents, and families joined by adoption. I don’t think there are enough therapists who understand these particular populations. In fact, I wish I had such a therapist while raising my son. As a first-time parent, I remember the times when I wondered if an issue was a normal developmental stage or an adoption-related issue.
What continues to inspire you about your work?
I love, love, love my job. Honestly, I would do it for free (don’t tell Lynne!). However, I am grateful to be paid to do something that I love and feel extremely passionate about. After all these years, I still get very excited about every birth parent and adoptive couple/individual with whom I work. I understand that their adoption journey will be uniquely their own, and it is truly an honor to be a part of of someone’s life in such a special and intimate way.
Anything you would like to add?
Heidi Bonfigli: Last thing I would like to add is that I have enjoyed working for an agency that is so open and accepting of all races, sexual orientations, religions, marital status, etc. I have been involved in so many diverse adoptions (single parents, same-sex parents, transracial placements), and they work out beautifully! Love for the adoptive child and the commitment by the adoptive and birth family are most important.
I also think it is really powerful that Adoption Connection considers the baby the client. To me, that shows the ethical nature of the agency. It ensures that birth and adoptive families are educated about what they are to embark on while keeping the baby at the forefront of all of their decision-making. It makes me very proud to work for Adoption Connection.
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